I can't tell you his name because 3 years experience shows people--people reading this--will harass his family. I'll call him Ed.
Twelve years ago I had business in...a cold city. I didn't know anyone but Ed's boyfriend.
I stayed at their house. We hung out and watched TV, watched the snow fall. Talked about art, the midwest--which I knew nothing about then. Ed had a collection of cookie jars.
They were nice was the point. Intelligent, incredibly generous, willing to think about things you put in front of them and to put things in front of you so you'd think about them. He wasn't the funny one (the boyfriend was the funny one) but you got the feeling he knew it, which was funny.
Ed liked my work--he eventually had a stained-glass window made from one of my paintings. I hadn't seen him in years--maybe ten?--when I found out he had one year left to live.
I visited. He wasn't the kind of guy who wanted pity or to talk about the chemo or biopsies or the remaining viable cells. He had lived a life of being the reliable guy and wanted to keep being that guy. The cancer had accelerated his decision to retire but he'd been a very successful lawyer.
So as soon as he's shown me around the apartment--and the new cookie jars. He says "I hear you're dealing with something of a legal situation. I can take a look for you if you like?"
He wanted to do something besides sit around the house and talk to his kids on the phone and wait to die. He said it--plus you could just tell. He read every document, he asked every question, he listened to tapes of hearings, he threw himself into my case(s) whenever his health permitted.
There are things that a lawyer that you're paying might not tell you--because it might involve them getting paid less. Also, just, he'd worked on some of the biggest defamation cases in the country. So, for two years, whenever I was dealing with any big legal decision I'd send it to him and get a second (often third or fifth) opinion. "A judge won't care about that" or "If they said that in that state it's open-and-shut."
He kept not dying. He also kept not wanting to talk about the cancer (I tried because I felt bad he was spending the effort on me) and talk about my case instead.
He called some months back and asked how all the legal stuff was progressing. It was a little bit of a surprise because up until then he'd waited for me to call him (legal stuff involves a lot of waiting for the court to decide to set a deadline to do a thing). I told him. We're waiting, as usual.
A few weeks later Ed's boyfriend (now ex-) got in touch to tell me Ed had died. Ed had gotten sick of the chemo and decided to just end it--after tying up his loose ends.
Looking at the dates, I realized that call was one of those loose ends.
He'd decided to die and one of the last things to do on this planet was get in touch, check in with me, and help however he could--and not tell me he was about to die. He didn't want pity about cancer, he wanted to do what he could to make sure I was ok, that I wasn't being taken advantage of, that my lawyers were taking the tack that made the most sense, that I was suing the right people, that he called all his people to find out what he could about any judge any of them knew anything about.
I don't know why I'm telling you this but the reason I'm still here, the reason I'm still alive is because of about two dozen people like Ed in my life. There was only one Ed but there are a lot of Eds: People who have been going through all the shit that life, Covid and the world throw at people and still had time to stop and go "Holy fuck, Zak, this is fucked up" and buy me lunch or give me the number of a guy they know or just show up and type a thing on the internet and let the other Eds know they're not alone.
I will never be able to repay them because either I die or I will live and owe them my life. I'm not a doctor, I'm not an EMT, I'm not a shrink, I don't have any life-saving skills. I can't do what they've done for me.
I also will probably never be able to publicly say their names and, probably, vice versa. Even if I survive, the people who did this will never stop trying to find ways to harm them. But I wanted to say that I appreciate you, not just to Michelle, Kimberly, Charlotte, Sara, and all the people who can speak out publicly, but to all the Ed's out there who can't. My house owes your house a debt it can never repay but I'll do my best to come as close as I can.